The composer’s next score was for James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything. It was by far the best thing about the movie.

Jóhannsson’s delicate, wondrous, but still moving music lifted the entire film and earned Jóhannsson his first Academy Award nomination for best original score.

His next film score was very different.

Back working with Villeneuve, Jóhannsson scored the crime thriller Sicario, which followed a team of CIA operatives trying to disrupt a brutal drug cartel in Mexico. The entire soundtrack for Sicario is a deeply compelling, sinister descent into chaos, but, in particular, the thunderous, indelible track “The Beast” is the stuff of nightmares:

Jóhannsson’s final collaboration with Villeneuve came on Arrival, the heady sci-fi film about a linguist (Amy Adams) trying to communicate with aliens who’ve arrived on Earth. Jóhannsson’s music for Arrival is truly special, an amalgamation of weird sounds, voices, and instruments that’s wholly unlike anything that came before or has come since.

Because the film is about language, Jóhannsson wanted the human voice to play an important role in its score:

Jóhannsson also somehow managed to create the most definitive alien sound in cinema. When you listen, you’ll know: If aliens exist, this is probably what they sound like. Or, at least, these sounds encompass what it must feel like coming into contact with beings we don’t fully understand:

At the time of his death, Jóhannsson had completed work on the film Mandy, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Early reviews of his score were, as always, glowing.

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